BY MADELINE FITZGERALD ’21
The heat was sweltering in the amphitheater. Rows of grassy seats were packed with students donning class colors and clutching boxed water and programs providing the lyrics to the Alma Mater. If people inhaled deeply enough, they might smell a hint of marijuana or stale alcohol. Class board members handed out mardi gras beads to passing classmates — from griffins coated in green glitter to lions wearing regalia ranging from cheerleaders to blue lycra suits.
The senior sphinxes wore crowns of yellow sunflowers and their new academic robes, marking their last convocation before venturing into the world beyond the gates.
But all other classes were dwarfed by the sea of red — the new pegasi, the largest class in the history of the College. The first-years filled the grass for their first Convocation, which closed out a week of new traditions initiating their time at Mount Holyoke.
Traditions like Convocation are a defining aspect of the Mount Holyoke experience. They also mark the beginning of a journey at the College for many students, including first-years. Transfers and Frances Perkins Scholars also began their careers at Mount Holyoke, while sophomore spring admits began their first fall semester.
For prospective students, Mount Holyoke’s traditions are often a deciding factor for choosing the College. Angelina Egan ’22 said that while she was always interested in the Seven Sisters, “traditions were a major reason why I’m here and not at Smith.”
Similarly, Aditi Parashar ’22 said that traditions played a major role in her decision to choose Mount Holyoke.
“All [Mount Holyoke’s] traditions sounded exciting, but when I attended Convocation, it exceeded my expectations,” said Parashar. Adding that, “The sense of community I felt in that blisteringly hot amphitheater reassured me that I was at a place I could eventually call home.”
In addition to Convocation, the class of 2022 watched “Dirty Dancing” under the stars in the amphitheater, signed the Honor Code in Abbey Chapel and were served their first M&Cs in the library. Egan said these experiences have been “amazing, all I expected them to be and more.”
Kesshni Bhasiin ’22 came to Mount Holyoke excited, but hesitant. Homesick for her city, New Delhi, India she “longed to hear the voices of hundreds of people and feel the pulse and energy of the city.” She found that pulse again, in the cheers and crowds at Orientation 101. When the upperclassmen returned to campus, students packed Chapin Auditorium for the event, chanting “twenty-twenty-two” and performing skits to welcome new peers.
Bhasiin said that at the tradition she “witnessed the strength and the importance of a community, a family within these walls.”
In contrast to traditional first-years, there are some for whom traditions are a reminder not of their connection to the Mount Holyoke community, but rather the ways in which their experiences are different.
Amelia Easley ’21 transferred to Mount Holyoke this year from Lewis & Clark College in Oregon. Easley said that the traditions made her feel isolated from other incoming students, as most of the early traditions are intended for incoming first-years. “I, as well as many of my fellow transfer students, felt left out during Orientation.”
Sophomore spring admit Eshita Rahman ’21 said that seeing what fall admitted students experienced made her feel “a little salty.” Spring admits experience variants of fall traditions, but on a much smaller scale and limited by the January weather.
In the fall, buildings are packed with students signing the Honor Code and attending Orientation 101. In the winter, spring admits fill a few rows of chairs, dwarfed by the empty rooms. The roar of upperclassmen cheering class years at orientation events is limited to the sore screams of a few orientation leaders. Spring admits watch “Dirty Dancing” inside the Clapp auditorium, instead of under the stars. Some traditions, like Convocation, have no winter equivalent.
“I feel like my transition would’ve been better had I been here to experience the same traditions,” Rahman said.
Experiencing traditions in the fall made Rahman feel more integrated into the student body. It also clarified some of her prior misconceptions- — like thinking that Convocation was when students watched “Dirty Dancing.”
Observing first-years building relationships within their class was the highlight of Rahman’s own experience. After sweet-talking her way into the first weekend event (spring admits are still technically in their first year) she watched the first-years dancing together.
“It was just pure,” she said. “It felt like summer camp, it was relaxed.”
Easley felt more connected to her class once she experienced Convocation. “It was the first one where I was among my own class,” she said. “We were able to cheer and be excited, not only as sophomores but as transfers, and be recognized as such.” She was also optimistic for coming traditions, like Mountain Day, which she will experience with the entire community.
At Mount Holyoke, the memories of past students are preserved through traditions dating back generations while new students can push for their vision of the school — like the addition of watching “Dirty Dancing” in 2013.
The importance of traditions was evident to Parashar. “I think traditions keep communities together and give them an opportunity to come together,” she said. “Growing up in India, I know the value traditions hold.”
Since its founding, traditions at Mount Holyoke have built a community of students from across the world. They bring truth to the words of the Alma Mater, sung together at Convocation over the sounds of African drums by tipsy seniors and enthusiastic first-years alike. “So from east and from west now we gather, united in firm love to thee. All years are as one in our loyal pledge, ‘Mount Holyoke forever shall be!’”